Brian Recktenwald from Naughty Dog introduced his new ArtStation Masterclass devoted to creating modular environments with UE4 and Photogrammetry.
Hello, my name is Brian Recktenwald. I’m an environment artist at Naughty Dog. Since our last conversation, my life has been busy both personally and professionally! I got engaged to my girlfriend and shipped Uncharted: Lost Legacy with our amazing team at Naughty Dog. I was also fortunate enough to travel around the world giving workshops and talks with Gnomon in Australia, at GameFest in the Philippines and at Level Up KL in Malaysia. I’m currently working on the much anticipated The Last of Us Part II and trying to squeeze small personal projects out when I can.
I’m am going to be an Instructor for ArtStation Masterclasses 2 – Games Edition on August 6th. My class is Designing a Modular Environment using Unreal going over the entire creation process of an environment including reference gathering, blockout and modular asset creation, some photogrammetry techniques and finally assembling a small subway environment with some supernatural elements in Unreal.
This course is a high-level walkthrough for designing and creating a modular environment for games with a focus on techniques and approaches for getting the very most out of a few assets. We’ll be going over the use of trim texture sheets for rapid 1st pass texturing and then finally assembling a small section of a subway environment in unreal (Unreal) using real-time lighting. This class will be just under 3 hours and people should be able to see the approaches I take, along with tips and techniques I use when constructing an environment like this.
Modular workflows save time and money and have been around since the beginning of game creation. I first dove into the deep end of this method while working at LucasArts where sci-fi lends itself extremely well to modular design. While many of the techniques I’m using are industry staples, I’m looking to share some personal techniques and insights I’ve gained over the years.
As for photogrammetry, it will be used minimally in this project only for a few minor assets like trash and some other organic assets. In general, I feel that natural environments lend themselves more to photogrammetry/scanning applications. Overusing public libraries can definitely make things look homogeneous. That’s where bringing in your own scans can help add separation and a unique personality to an environment. If the visual goal is photorealism (or motivated by it), especially for natural scenes, then photogrammetry is an excellent technique to use as lighting, mood and integration can dramatically change the feel of the assets, even though in isolation they may all feel similar in “style”.
I’d say we’ll have to create about 30 models and 5 sets of trim/tileable textures (mostly very simple) to complete the scene. We’re going to start with the walls, ceilings and floors for a subway tunnel, then the bends required and then move onto the loading area of a station (with some supernatural infestation). Then we’ll move onto secondary and tertiary details such as pipes/conduits and some props. We are going to use world space variation in the shaders in Unreal, along with vertex painting to get variation among the modules. To ensure everything fits/snaps together we are going to live religiously on the grid for blocking in and making all the assets.
Another problem is connected with working in a modular way: it can be seen as constricting and rigid. This is sometimes the case, but when done right, it allows you to populate a space very efficiently with higher speed, and also works better for performance with most engines. Also, without proper material variation, set dressing and lighting, the environment can become very repetitious and monotonous if not utilized correctly. Creating environments takes time no matter what technique is used, but I feel having a real-time render such as V-Ray Next or Redshift open throughout the whole creation process allows you to see where it’s going at a higher fidelity until you get the assets into Unreal. Also, learning and experimenting with new tools, finding shortcuts along the way, and having a few movies or music related to the space you’re making on in the background help pump up the creativity and excitement for creating the environment.